Life is complicated. Life is stressful. Your employer wants you to squeeze more work into the same hours, the kids need help with their homework, your elderly relative needs your assistance, and there are important papers somewhere in that pile of unsorted mail.
Volunteering too often adds stress to our lives.
At least you can go to church, where you’re fed and nourished by the One who invites all who “labor and are heavy laden” to come to him and receive “rest for [our] souls’ (Matt. 11:28-29). But the bulletin has several new (and many old) “volunteers needed” notices. A friend asks you to lend a hand at the upcoming mission supper, and your heart goes out to another friend who is buckling under the burden of organizing the spring fellowship event. Despite a resolve to cut back on your commitments, despite the ways you’re already volunteering, you head home having agreed to yet one more volunteer task.
You love your Lord and you love your church. You know God wants us all to serve, and you see so many needs, important needs, at church. Plus the school and the kids’ activities need volunteers, and you want to serve your community, too. No wonder we’re so easily buried under, and burned out by, our volunteering. Volunteering too often adds stress and complexity to our lives.
In desperation, some people abandon all volunteering. Others even change churches, or quit going all together, to avoid volunteering. Even if you haven’t done these things, many of us (be honest now!) have considered them. But these desperate steps aren’t necessary. You can serve and volunteer in a simple, non-draining, God-pleasing way.
- Serve from your giftedness.
What volunteering energizes you?
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others” (1 Peter 4:10). Peter reminds us to serve. But he also here reminds us that when we’re serving, we should be using our gifts! When I volunteer to talk to church leaders about healthy church volunteerism, I look forward to it and I come home energized and excited. When I prepare food for a church dinner, I agonize over what to make, wondering if anyone will eat it. What tasks are fun for you? What volunteering energizes you and what drains you? Sometimes you’ll want to pitch in and help where help is needed, even if it doesn’t match your gifts, but the vast majority of your volunteering should be in your gift areas. You’ll be more effective in those areas, too.
- Ask your Father first.
Don’t let the tyranny of the “shoulds and oughts” rule your decisions about volunteering. When you’re asked to serve, or you feel compelled to serve, first give it prayerful consideration. Consider your gifts as well as the responsibilities God has given you. An annual review of the ways you serve is also helpful. If your circumstances have changed over the year, consider cutting back on, or increasing, your volunteering. Or perhaps it would be good to try something different. You can do different things in the different seasons of your life. “But if I don’t serve here, they won’t be able to find anyone else!” Maybe. Or perhaps they’ll be led to someone else who would love that task. And if there truly is no one with the gifts and the availability to do a certain task, leaders should consider whether it really needs to be done.
- Focus on people.
People are eternal.
Tasks are important, but people are eternal. Slow down. Get to know the people you serve and the people you serve with. Listen to them. Watch for opportunities to share the Gospel, with unbelievers and believers alike. If you’re working alone, setting up for communion in an empty church on a Saturday afternoon, talk to your Lord Jesus as you make preparations for the distribution of His body and blood. Think about and pray for the people who will receive it the next morning. Connecting with other people, and growing relationships, simplifies our volunteering by focusing on what has eternal significance.
- Do one thing instead of many.
How you view your volunteering can simplify it. Instead of seeing your life as a complex juggling act of responsibilities at home, church, and work, view it as one single task: being a faithful caretaker of what God has given you to manage. A good manager does fewer things well rather than many things poorly and puts first things first. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Making dinner, writing that report at work, teaching Sunday school and helping Grandma – all are simply parts of the one task of caring for what God has given you.
Keeping it simple does involves some work, but it’s worth it. (For another perspective on the results of stressful volunteering, see “Screwtape Writes on Church Volunteers.”) When church leaders, both paid and volunteer, un-complicate their own lives, and when they help others do the same, the whole church benefits. Together, we enjoy the adventure of “simply” serving our Lord all our lives and we become more effective tools in God’s hands.